OSAKA, July 20, 2008 -- When the DREAM mixed martial arts fightsport production premiered in March of this year, 14 of the world's best MMA fighters went head-to-head in the Lightweight Grand Prix Round 1 Elimination. In May, more than 21,000 fans filled the Saitama Super Arena as four victorious fighters took another step toward the 70kg/154lbs Championship. Now it's boiled down to one night, and the last man standing will wear the DREAM Lightweight Belt.
Set for the Osaka Jo Hall, tomorrow's DREAM.5 Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 Final kicks off with a pair of Round 3 semifinal bouts. The two winners there will clash for the 2008 Championship in the Main Event. The event also features a trio of Superfights and three other MMA bouts in a variety of weight classes.
On the eve of the action, participating fighters met the media at the Osaka Bay Tower Hotel.
The first of the Lightweight GP semis features a couple of Japanese fighters -- MMA veteran Caol Uno and judoka Shinya Aoki.
Aoki, who came to the press conference shirtless, proclaimed, "I will show my smile in the ring tomorrow, and when I win I will show tears of joy!"
Characteristically soft-spoken, Uno pledged, "I will fight my kind of fight and show my spirit, so enjoy it!"
The second GP semifinal bout pits American Eddie Alvarez against Tatsuya Kawajiri of Japan in a showdown between a couple of wrestlers.
Said Alvarez, "It's always great to fight in front of Japanese fans! I prepared for eight months for this, so tomorrow you'll see the most exciting and the best fight of my career!"
Said Kawajiri, "This will be my 30th bout, and I turned 30 this year. The day has come, this is historic for me and I will make it to the final!"
In the GP reserve fight, Joachim Hansen of Norway will meet Black Mamba of India.
Hansen: "I expect a hard fight and will do my best to win and make it exciting."
Mamba: "Hansen is a tough opponent but I'm ready to go to war!"
For some time now, 2001 K-1 World GP Champion Mark Hunt of New Zealand has been booked on tomorrow's card, and today his "TBA" opponent was finally revealed as Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem.
Walking onto the stage, Hunt affected shock and awe at the sight of big Overeem, before coolly remarking, "I just want to say thanks to Alistair for taking the fight, and you're going to get paid."
Overeem delivered his curt remarks in Japanese: "Thanks Mark -- I'm going to get you!"
In a Middleweight Superfight (84kg/185lbs), HERO's 2006 Light Heavyweight Champion Yoshihiro Akiyama of Japan will step in against compatriot Katsuyori Shibata.
Osaka is Akiyama's hometown, and the fighter remarked on the stifling heat that has descended on the city over the last few days, "It's hot here in the summer, it reminds me of festival time. So I will make a festival of my own tomorrow in the ring!"
Shibata said simply, "I'm a pro-wrestler and I will do what I do."
A Featherweight Superfight (64kg/141lbs) will see a couple of Japanese fighters -- Hideo Tokoro and Takeshi Yamazaki.
Tokoro remarked that he intended to make it a "speedy fight," while Yamazaki said "Tokoro is great so it will be exciting, but I am going to win!"
Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto was supposed to be on tomorrow's card, but suffered an injury to his right knee during training three days ago. In his place, Japanese fighter Kodo will entertain Joseph Benavidez of the United States in a Featherweight (62kg/137lbs) contest.
Said Kodo, "This is like a dream for me, I want to make it come true."
Benavidez: "It's unfortunate that Kid got injured, but I want to thank my opponent for taking the fight on short notice. I am focused on the fight I have now, and I just want to go in and get the win."
A couple of Japanese grapplers -- Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Motoki Miyazawa -- will face-off in a 76kg/168lbs match.
"It's my first time in DREAM," said Hironaka, "and I want to make a good fight."
Replied Miyazawa, "I'm not talkative, so please just watch me fight tomorrow."
In the evening's opening fight, it will be Japanese armbar specialist Daisuke Nakamura vs Andy Ologun of Nigeria, who has fought but once in MMA.
The DREAM.5 Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 Final kicks off at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 21 at the Osaka Jo Hall. The event will be broadcast live in Japan on the TBS network and SkyPerfect; and live in the United States on HDNet Fights (www.hd.net). For broadcast-schedule information in other countries, contact local providers. Visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for comprehensive coverage of this and all FEG productions.